Raja Ampat Indonesia Bucket List: 17 Unforgettable Island-y Experiences 

Just the mention of Indonesia’s white-sand beaches and turquoise waters triggers thoughts of the well-known hotspot, Bali. At least it did for me! But, you’ll have to venture way beyond Bali in order to explore the very remote Raja Ampat, who can definitely give Indonesia’s most popular island a serious run for its money.

Raja Ampat (or Four Kings) is an archipelago with a staggering 1,500 islands and is one of the most isolated groups of islands in the world. Nicknamed “The Last Paradise” for a reason, it boasts some of the world’s most diverse marine life, making it a haven for divers and snorkelers.

My Raja Ampat bucket list of things to do will guide you through my favorite must-do experiences, from exploring hidden caves to kayaking through emerald landscapes.

Note: It’s very remote! From Yogyakarta we took a bus, 2 planes, a ferry and a speed boat to reach the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge in Western Papau. It was worth every minute of travel time. 

17 Must-Do Experiences in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

The Best Things to Do in Raja Ampat

1. Climb Piaynemo Hill For an Epic View

Let’s face it, not everyone enjoys a full-blown stair climb (or is that just me?). But, in this case, don’t let that stop you from experiencing the epic view from the top of Piaynemo Island! 

Pulling up to the small dock on the island, there is a set of stairs heading straight up into the forest. The short, yet semi-strenuous 300+ step climb leads you to a balcony with a million-dollar panorama. 

Piaynemo Hill Annette Raja Ampat

From the peak you can see an iconic karst island seascape, small islands surrounded by a dozen shades of brilliant turquoise. 

This million dollar view wasn’t my only reward, so was the fresh coconut juice waiting for me at the bottom. There was a vendor selling them for 15,000 ($1.15 USD). Don’t tell him, but I would have paid 50,000!

Piaynemo Hill

2. Explore the Local Villages 

Stepping off the beaten path and into the heart of Raja Ampat means exploring its villages. Imagine exchanging touristy trinkets for hand-crafted souvenirs made by local artisans, or witnessing traditional dances performed by the warm and welcoming communities. 

Local Villages

Here’s a glimpse into what awaits you in a few of my favorite Raja Ampat villages:

Arborek Village Annette

Arborek Village: Probably the most popular of the villages in Raja Ampat, Arborek Village is best known for its thriving handicraft industry, particularly noken (woven bags) and hats made from natural materials.

There are also plenty of snorkeling opportunities, and you don’t have to stray far from the shore. During my snorkel, there was a thick wall of thousands of fish right under the dock!

Arborek Village

Sawinggrai Village: This is a good place to see if you can spot the Cenderawasih bird, which has been named the Bird of Paradise of Papua. From its elegant, flowing head plumes to its wire-like tail feathers, the Cenderawasih possesses a fascinating combination of grace and drama.

Sawinggrai Village Raja Ampat


And for a truly unique experience, head down to the docks where you can see schools of fish scramble as the villagers feed them. Plus, don’t forget your snorkel gear – Sawinggrai also has beautiful coral reefs filled with marine life.

Sawinggrai Village

Yenbuba Village: This quiet village is known for its pastel-colored houses, beautiful church, and a long jetty leading out to the sea. And of course its epic snorkeling! 


3. Chase Waterfalls

Forget the five-star hotel shower, Raja Ampat offers a far more invigorating rinse-and-repeat experience – chasing waterfalls. Hike through lush jungles, feel the cool spray on your face, and take a dip in crystal-clear pools beneath cascading waters. Sounds refreshing, right?

Raja Ampat reveals numerous hidden treasures, among them, Batanta Waterfall on Batanta Island (make sure not to overlook the hidden cave behind the cascade!), Warengkris Waterfall near Warsamdim in Waigeo Island, and Air Terjun Malol in Gamta Village on Misool Island.


4. Cruise Through Raja Ampat 

Imagine spending your days snorkeling alongside vibrant coral reefs, kayaking through hidden lagoons, and evenings unwinding on the deck of your luxurious vessel (or a cozy dive boat, if that’s more your speed).

TIP: My top cruise picks would be with Aqua Blu Expeditions and Pindito. Both will have you exploring Raja Ampat for multiple days.


5. See the Disappearing Islands

Raja Ampat has a secret – some of its most stunning beaches aren’t always there! These aren’t deserted islands; they’re “disappearing islands,” sandbars that emerge from the crystal-clear waters at low tide. 

For a few magical hours, you can claim your own private beach paradise, perfect for sunbathing, swimming, or simply marveling at the beauty of nature’s magic trick. Just remember, when the tide rolls in, it’s time to pack up and head back to dry land.

TIP: The exact locations of these “disappearing islands” aren’t widely known, but your best bet is to check with your tour operator for the best spots and time.


6. Spot Whales

Whales aren’t exactly shy in Raja Ampat, with sightings of sperm whales, Bryde’s whales, and even orcas being quite common. While encounters are possible throughout the year, the window from December to March is considered prime time for whale watching. The Dampier Strait and the Segwin Strait are hotspots/migration routes for these gentle giants, so grab your camera (and maybe some seasickness meds, just in case.)


7. Get Pampered at a Spa

I can tell you that those diving excursions and island explorations around Raja Ampat can leave your body feeling like a forgotten flip-flop. That’s where the island’s many spas come in.

The islands may be remote, but you can still indulge in a massage using local ingredients, while lulled by the sound of gentle waves. Pure bliss, right? Several resorts offer world-class spa experiences, like the ones at Misool Eco Resort and the Papua Explorers Spa.


8. Go Bird Watching (& Spot the Birds of Paradise)

If you’re looking to expand your horizons beyond the underwater world, then look to the skies! Raja Ampat boasts an impressive list of avian celebrities (over 250 bird species), with the undisputed stars being the (Red) Birds of Paradise or Cenderawasih, known for their outrageous courtship displays.

Set your sights on islands like Waigeo, Batanta, Gam, and Birie to witness these rockstar birds in action. Keep an eye out for other dazzling species like the Wilson’s Birds of Paradise, the Papuan Hornbill, the Rainbow Lorikeet, and the Long-billed Honey-eater.


9. Go Island Hopping 

Raja Ampat isn’t just one stunning island; it’s a whole archipelago waiting to be explored. Here are some of the must-visit islands to add to your itinerary:

  • Piaynemo Island: Famous for its dramatic scenery (think turquoise water dotted with green, mushroom-shaped limestone islands.). It’s also the place where you can get that million dollar view mentioned above! 
  • Birie Island: Home to the Papua Paradise Eco Resort with its birding tower, Birie Island has a diverse range of avian residents. This includes the Blue Paradise Kingfisher, the Rufous-bellied Pitta, and even chances of spotting a Bird-of-Paradise.
Birie Island
  • Kri Island: Although small, Kri Island has some beautiful beaches and lush rainforests, and is known for having Raja Ampat’s largest and busiest homestays, particularly in the north of the island. Some of the most popular are: Yenkoranu Homestay, Daroyen Village and Mambetron Homestay.
Kri Island
  • Fam Islands: a Mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers. The calm waters, abundance of marine life, and pristine coral reefs are world-class. Don’t miss out on one of their most famous dive sites, a beautiful reef called Melissa’s Garden.
Fam Islands
  • Wayag Island: The poster child of Raja Ampat, known for its towering karst pillars rising majestically from the turquoise waters. While it’s more remote and expensive to reach than Piaynemo, it’s definitely a bucket list destination worth visiting.
Wayag Island

10. See the Mangroves

Mangroves might not be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of Raja Ampat, but trust me, they’re worth exploring! These aren’t just swampy wastelands; they’re vital ecosystems bursting with land and marine life. Raja Ampat boasts some incredible mangrove spots, with the Blue Water Mangroves on the western edge of Gam Island being a real showstopper.

See the Mangroves

11. Swim with Manta Ray

Stingray can be spotted in Raja Ampat, with Manta Sandy (Gam Island) and Manta Ridge (Waigeo Island) being hotspots for these graceful creatures. Other places you can catch them include Magic Mountain (Shadow Reef) near Misool Island, Dayang Island, and Black Rock near Wayag Island.

Swim with Manta Ray

12. Explore Tomolol Cave in Misool

Carved out by seawater over millions of years, Tomolol Cave (also known as Goa Keramat/Tengkorak Cave) is a vast complex of water-filled caverns located on the east coast of Misool Island. The dramatic entrance opens into a giant amphitheater, accessible by boat through a stunning lagoon. You can either swim through the cool waters or explore by kayak or paddleboard (I suggest bringing headlamps/waterproof flashlights if you plan on venturing deeper).

Fun fact: The cave holds a special place in the hearts of the local Muslim community, with legends saying it holds the tomb of an Islamic propagator who came to Misool Island.


13. Visit the Raja Ampat Pearl Farm at Alyui Bay

Atlas Pearls Farm in the pristine waters of Alyui Bay, isn’t your average pearl shop; it’s a portal into the fascinating world of pearl cultivation.

Witness the entire process, from the selection of oysters to the harvesting of their high-quality Akoya and South Sea pearls. The farm’s remote location adds to the mystique, offering stunning scenery alongside the educational experience. They also have a shop where you can purchase loose pearls, pearl strands, and pearl jewelry. Just the perfect souvenir to take home with you!


14. Go Sea Kayaking

Raja Ampat’s maze of islands, peninsulas, bays, and inlets makes for the perfect stage for sea kayaking. The calm, sheltered waters of Gam Bay are ideal for first-timers, while adventurous kayakers can challenge themselves in the currents of Dampier Strait, or weave through the labyrinthine islands of Misool. The iconic limestone cliffs of the Wayag Islands and the pristine waters around Kri Island offer breathtaking scenery for a relaxing paddle.


15. Taste the Local Food

While hotel buffets might seem tempting, the real stars of the show are hidden in the local food scene. Fresh seafood is a staple, as is rice, sago (a starchy food made from the pith of a sago palm tree), and root vegetables like taro root.

Feeling adventurous? Try Papeda, a gooey porridge that might take some getting used to (but trust me, it’s worth a try!). For something on the weirder food side, roasted sea worms (cacing laut) are a chewy and savory treat worth eating.

Papeda

16. Visit Doom Island; Raja Ampat’s Original Capital City

Don’t be fooled by the name! Doom Island, just off Sorong in West Papua, Indonesia, is a charming island getaway. Despite its size (only 5 square kilometers!), it has a rich history as a former Dutch administrative center and Raja Ampat’s original capital.

Today, it’s a quick boat trip away, offering scenic beaches, interesting ruins like the old prison, and friendly locals. 

Fun Fact: The island’s name comes from the local indigenous language of the Malamooi people (pronounced as Dom), which translates to something much more pleasant: “island with many fruit trees,” reflecting the island’s abundance of fruit, especially breadfruit.


17. Snorkel…Everywhere! 

Raja Ampat is a snorkeler’s paradise, with an incredible variety of marine life inhabiting its crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs. Here’s my list of the best places to snorkel in Raja Ampat:

  • Sauwandarek Jetty, Waigeo Island: This easily accessible jetty offers a stunning wall reef teeming with colorful fish, coral formations, and critters like nudibranchs and octopus.
  • Yenbuba Jetty, Mansuar Island: Similar to Sauwandarek Jetty, Yenbuba Jetty provides easy access to a diverse marine environment. Look out for schools of fish, sharks, turtles, and even majestic manta rays gliding by.
  • Kri Island: Kri Island boasts beautiful beaches and fringing reefs full of marine life. Explore coral bommies and swim-throughs, and encounter a variety of tropical fish, anemones with clownfish, and giant clams.
  • Piaynemo Bay, Waigeo Island: Explore the underwater paradise surrounding the Piaynemo Islands. Find a kaleidoscope of coral formations, vibrant fish, sharks, and turtles.
Snorkel

Raja Ampat isn’t just a place to visit; it’s a place to feel. From witnessing the underwater ballet of manta rays to scaling viewpoints with breathtaking panoramas, it promises an unforgettable connection with nature. Let my bucket list be your guide to crafting a transformative journey.

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More Things to Do in Indonesia

5 thoughts on “Raja Ampat Indonesia Bucket List: 17 Unforgettable Island-y Experiences ”

  1. Great photos – it’s fabulous isn’t it? Raja Ampat is truly an (as yet) untouched paradise. To help keep it that way, for fabulous cultural immersion, and to support local communities rather than outside investors, the best way to see it is by staying at Papuan owned beach bungalow accommodation.

    Reply
  2. These pictures are awesome. This looks as close to paradise as it gets. I personally would certainly bring my scuba gear for some underwater sightseeing. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

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